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Angela's World


3.17. Episode Seventeen: "Betrayal"

   Original Air Date: January 12, 1995


"Were you happy?" -- Angela



    Rayanne and Jordan transgress while Brian catches it on video. Angela is not amused.


In this the ante-penultimate episode of MSCL, character development is sparse, and the subtext, metaphors, and visual cues are muted. Even the ubiquitous food metaphor has been relegated to the back burner as Graham and Hallie prepare to get their restaurant venture under way. The usual driving forces of MSCL are blunted for two reasons: First, the plot line carries an event, the "betrayal" of Angela by Rayanne and Jordan, which overpowers the usual means by which the MSCL story is told. Second, this is the episode in which MSCL becomes self-aware. The overpowering event is relatively easy to analyze. Rayanne and Jordan "do it" in the back seat of Jordan's car, while Brian witnesses and videotapes. For Rayanne, it is an irresponsible act. She has started to drink again, imitating the "adult" behavior that led to her overdose. As demonstrated in "Other People's Daughters," Rayanne's "adult" behavior, her attempt to be "responsible," is in reality an abdication of responsibility or accountability for her own actions. For Jordan, it is an act that shouldn't mean anything but will. Angela feels betrayed by both Rayanne and Jordan:

    "They think I'm some innocent little twit who they can treat as bad as they want. Well, they're wrong."

However, her wrath, at least outwardly, is directed at Rayanne.

As Rayanne discovers she has been cast in Our Town as Emily Webb, she calls out to Angela, who keeps on walking. Later, when Rayanne corners Angela backstage, Angela turns her back, literally, on Rayanne. Angela still hurts, but does not realize how deeply she has struck; in Rayanne's moment of triumph, she is left alone. In a single irresponsible act, she has lost everything.

The episode contains some noteworthy nuances. Rayanne auditions for a part in Our Town, although her last attempt at public performance, at Club Vertigo, was an unmitigated disaster. We may assume that Angela and Rickie have done some pretty intense talking to convince her to audition. But this time, we know Rayanne's audition will be a success because as she walks on stage, we get a quick shot of Rayanne's knapsack falling to the stage floor. The image is not insignificant: At Club Vertigo, Rayanne brought her baggage to the stage and could not cope. Here, knowing that Angela and Rickie are close by, Rayanne drops her baggage. And she is magnificent. Unfortunately, she picks her baggage back up. Just before Rayanne auditions, she refers to the fact that Rickie is living with Mr. Katimski. However, nothing more is said of that plot line, or of how Rickie's life is going. Nevertheless, we are told. While Rickie was homeless, he had no perspective. For example, he refused to talk about his problems with Angela, and told Mr. Katimski he was fine, even as he stood in a phone booth during a rainstorm with nowhere else to go. Now, the scars on Rickie's face have healed and he is once more neatly dressed and clean. Moreover, Rickie is the episode's mediating voice. He tells Rayanne how Angela must feel, he tells Angela how Rayanne must feel and he tells Angela how he feels. The change in Rickie and the strength of his voice tell us how he's doing in his new home: He's thriving.

The lives of the children are echoed in the parents. For example, just as Rayanne has been a catalyst for action and a source of danger in Angela's life, Hallie Lowenthal has become a catalyst for action in Graham's life, but also a source of danger to Patty. Thus, when Rayanne confesses her transgression to Patty, Patty absolves Rayanne, in a sense.

    "I don't hate you. But I can understand how Angela feels."

Patty's empathy with Rayanne, we later learn, stems from the fact that Patty had committed a similar transgression while in college. Her empathy with Angela comes from the sense that there is a force in her life that may cause Graham to betray her. A second example occurs when Sharon tells Angela about Rayanne and Jordan and later defends herself to Rayanne:

    "I did it to protect her! So she would know! Because it's what you do when you're a friend."

A similar warning comes from Camille, who warns Patty about Hallie. But the real story of "Betrayal" is "My So-Called Life" itself. The signal characteristic that places mankind above other animals is an awareness of his own existence and the comprehension of mortality. Occasionally, a television show may acknowledge its existence in a make-believe world, and by analogy, become self-aware. Usually this is done to tell a joke. In "Betrayal," MSCL tells its own story. It is no joke.

"Betrayal" aired late enough that the writer (Jill Gordon) and producers must have known of MSCL's impending relegation to "hiatus" pending cancellation. That being so, the episode sends a clear message from its very title.

From the opening scene, "Betrayal" is retrospective. In "Dancing in the Dark," after Angela and Jordan kiss goodnight, Angela dances an innocent, light-hearted, romantic dance before going into the house. We see her the following morning at breakfast drinking coffee. Here, where she believes she is "over" Jordan, she dances wildly, and at breakfast she dumps syrup over her pancakes and licks the syrup off of her thumb. Through Brian's video camera (a reference to "Life of Brian"), we see Brian aiming the camera at Sharon's breasts as she tells him to shoot pictures where people "hang out," alluding to the Hottest Sophomore Babes poll in "Guns and Gossip." An oak tree gets mentioned, recalling "The Substitute." Angela babbles as Jordan walks by, as she did in "Dancing in the Dark." The dialogue between Rickie and Delia at the door to the Girls' Bathroom repeats the dialogue between Rickie and Graham in "Father Figures." Delia discovers there's "never any soap" in the Girls' Bathroom, a fact we have known since the Pilot episode. At times, the allusion to episodes past is subtle: the video showing things from Brian's perspective, as we saw in "The Life of Brian"; Rayanne's criticism of Our Town, ("Dead people come back and visit! Like that's really gonna happen!"), which occurred in "Halloween" (maybe) and "So-Called Angels"; Jordan's observation that sometimes he feels he knows Angela, and other times she's like a total stranger to him, reminiscent of his treatment of Angela in "Self-Esteem"; Angela's statement that she could kill Rayanne and Jordan "with my hands," recalling her comparison of sex to death in "Pressure"; Patty working on the clothing drive with Camille, as she worked on Camille's fashion show in "The Zit"; Rayanne taking center stage, as she did in "On the Wagon"; Graham finally taking the tangible steps towards opening a restaurant, a journey that began for him in "Strangers in the House." The allusions to prior episodes clearly point to a show taking stock of itself. The episode goes a step further with the apparent transposition of Rayanne and Angela, as each progressively adopts certain characteristics of the other. The transformation is not sufficiently complete to support any significant thematic content in Angela's story, but in the story of "My So-Called Life," the changes in Rayanne and Angela underscore the point that they are merely roles. The theme established, the message is clear, from the title of the episode to the closing scene. The characters' statements thus become statements about "My So-Called Life":

    "I lost a REALLY good friend -- I lost EVERYTHING!"
    "You can't hurt somebody this bad unless you really matter to them..."

The closing scene becomes a statement about "My So-Called Life" itself. Mr. Katimski's instruction to Rayanne to "stop acting" carries an ominous portent, as does his explanation to Rayanne of the Our Town scene:

    "Emily is dead. The life she had is over. That's a pretty big deal. I mean -- oh, gee whiz, she is just now realizing how precious every moment of that life really was, and that she never fully appreciated what she had. Just imagine what that must feel like, Rayanne."

But neither Rayanne, nor we, have to imagine:

    "I can't go on... so all that was going on and we never noticed... take me back... but first, wait, one last look... Goodbye... Goodbye world... do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? Every -- every minute?"

Then Angela speaks, her voice trembling:

    "Were you happy?"
    "No... I should have listened to you... But that's all human beings are, just blind people."

The scene ends and Angela and Rayanne walk off the stage in opposite directions. If the scene was meant to be dispositive of the rift between Angela and Rayanne alone, the girls would have exited in the same direction; Angela has the capacity to forgive Rayanne, in time. However, we are now in the real world, where a television show that does not produce ratings does not survive, no matter how profoundly it moves us.


    Copyright 1997 William E. Blais.
    All Rights Reserved.

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“And, you know, with your hair like that? It hurts to look at you.”

Rayanne Graff, Episode 1: "My So-Called Life (Pilot)"